It’s common knowledge that maximizing a hitter’s bat speed involves developing upper body strength, particularly in the hands and forearms. But how much does leg action figure into the equation?
According to Mark Linden, former college coach and creator of the online resource Baseball Positive, the initial action of a swing is much like jumping, without fully extending the legs as you would in a jump. In a 2017 blog post addressing ways to generate greater bat speed and power, Linden says a batter should anchor the back leg, which stops the extension in ‘mid-jump’. The energy and momentum created by this movement is transferred from the legs to the hands.
Tim Saunders, a high school coach in Dublin, Ohio, for more than 30 years, believes there must be some leg twist or linear travel on the swing from the hips and legs. Every hitter should be in a balanced athletic position from the beginning of a swing to the end. If he jumps in the air with both feet, he will land in his best athletic position and close to where he should have his feet, to start his stance stride.
“I like this method because we see so many different types of stances being open, closed, high leg kick, etc.,” Saunders told theSeason. “If you stick with the basics and don’t get too much extra movement, you probably have a better chance to be consistent at the plate. The more movement, then the more chance of error.”
To build strength in a player’s hands and forearms, Saunders uses wrist rulers with a bar or rope or 5-10-pound weight during the winter. Roll the weight down to the ground, then back up one twist at a time. Players also use spring grips that forces them to squeeze, then release to develop fingers and forearms.
Another technique to maximize bat speed is what Saunders calls rapid fire.
“We soft toss however many balls a tosser can hold in two hands — usually five or six — and we toss as fast as the hitter can swing, then get reset quickly,” he explained. “After 5-6 swings, the hitter is gassed, and it builds quickness.”
Bat speed is essential in hitting the ball hard consistently, Saunders says. To drive home this point, he conducts a home run derby drill, using smash or whiffle balls. Each player backs away from the fence, and if he hits the ball hard enough to clear it, he has good bat speed.
“We do this just to let the players know what their bat speed is, and to always go for doubles or hit for power,” Saunders said. “Power equals bat speed.”
Is a hitter’s bat speed sometimes determined by his personality? Saunders thinks so, although he admits it’s not exactly a scientific analysis.
“My high-strung, high-intensity guys are quicker with their hands and feet, and my introvert, quiet guys are slower with their hands and feet,” Saunders said. “Maybe I’m wrong, but I (always) preach high energy, high intensity.”
Saunders would like to see kids learn more about the basics of bat speed at the lower levels. Coaches often focus on teaching consistent contact. While this is certainly important to being a good hitter, Saunders says kids need to swing the bat more on their own and develop bat speed before they reach the high school level.
“I think bat speed has to be taught at all levels,” he said. “The main ingredient in teaching any part of the game is being able to let the player know why this is important, then give them ways to increase it during game action. Just playing the game and not working on it off the field doesn’t correlate to good results.”
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr
Take a look at some other hitting drills here.